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A Four-Day Getaway in Western Ireland

Travel beyond Dublin and visit the Emerald Isle's charming smaller cities 

En español | Most Americans travel to the capital, but some of this cozy country’s most beautiful and uniquely Irish places are in the west and south — and you can cover a lot of ground here on a short trip.

tourists walking along Galway, Ireland

Gabbro / Alamy Stock Photo

Galway is a key stop along the scenic drive known as the Wild Atlantic Way.

Day 1

Arrive at Shannon Airport and drive 52 miles north to Galway— one of the world’s friendliest cities and host to more than 120 festivals and events each year (including the big-deal Galway Races Summer Festival, the place to see horse racing, Irish elites and exotic hats). Check into your hotel; consider the elegant and historic Hotel Meyrick in the center of town or the ultramodern G Hotel on the edge of the city’s shallow lake known as Lough Atalia. For lunch, stop by the Kitchen Café and Restaurant at the free Galway City Museum, which is packed with information on Galway history and the perfect place to begin your visit. Then consider a 90-minute scenic cruise along the River Corrib or a culinary stroll with foodie Sheena Dignam of Galway Food Tours to sample local cheeses, chocolates, beers and more. If that doesn't fill you up, indulge in beef and Guinness stew (or just a pint) on Quay Street at the historic pub the Quays, or nosh on oysters at the 120-year-old Tigh Neachtain — both great spots to hear traditional Irish music.

King John's Castle, Ireland

Gabbro / Alamy Stock Photo

Limerick’s iconic King John’s Castle is more than 800 years old.

Day 2

Drive about an hour and a half back down south to Limerick, where accommodations range from low-key B&Bs (check out the website Bed & Breakfast Ireland) to stylish hipster hangouts like the modern, centrally located Absolute Hotel. The city is probably best known as author Frank McCourt’s hometown — and yes, there's an Angela’s Ashes walking tour based on McCourt's famous memoir — but Limerick’s most iconic sites include the 13th-century King John’s Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded in 1168. Also check out the Hunt Museum, which displays Celtic antiquities plus works by Picasso and Renoir, then visit the Milk Market for local crafts and foods.

If you really want to hang with locals, watch Limerick's Munster Rugby (one of four area rugby teams) play at 25,600-seat Thomond Park Stadium: The team’s passionate fans likely will sing “The Fields of Athenry,” an Irish folk ballad. Toward evening, good pub options include Dolans, offering live music, and the Curragower in the Medieval Quarter on the river Shannon (you can see the castle as you sip your pint). An excellent non-pub option is Freddy’s Bistro, named one of Ireland’s top restaurants (be sure to make reservations).

Cork Cork Opera House and Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City, Ireland

Andrew Michael / Alamy Stock Photo

Crawford Art Gallery showcases Irish art and welcomes at least 200,000 visitors each year.

Day 3

Drive 63 miles south from Limerick to Cork, Ireland’s second-biggest city, where hotels with picturesque views of the river include the modern River Lee. Also consider a B&B just outside the city for far less expensive lodging. Start your explorations with a stroll over the River Lee on scenic Patrick’s Bridge and head to the Crawford Art Gallery, a free museum that features not only some of Ireland’s greatest artists, but also a top-notch café. Don’t miss the bustling English Market, which opened in 1788 (Queen Elizabeth visited in 2011). The 140 stalls include everything from olive oil to smoked salmon to fresh breads, but if you’re interested in old-school Cork delicacies, stop by A. O’Reilly & Sons for blood sausage and tripe (cow’s stomach — yum). For an upscale dinner, there’s Market Lane Restaurant & Bar, specializing in seafood in the center of the city, or go more casual — and meatier — at the Elbow Lane Brew & Smoke House, which brews its own beer (but go early; they don’t take reservations).

St Canice's Cathedral in Ireland

Giuseppe Masci / Alamy Stock Photo

Built during the 6th century, the Church of St. Canice in Kilkenny still has worship services today.

Day 4

Drive 97 miles northeast to Kilkenny, where you can begin by wandering the city’s compact Medieval Mile: Highlights include the 12th-century Kilkenny Castle, the 13th-century Black Abbey (known for its spectacular stained glass), and St. Canice’s Cathedral. Be sure to climb the cathedral’s 9th-century Round Tower, which offers 360-degree views of the city (yes, it’s worth all those steps). For authentic Irish gifts — and to watch them being made — visit the Kilkenny Design Centre for jewelry, knitwear, crystal and pottery. You can finish your Irish adventure with a tour and tasting at the Smithwick's Experience Kilkenny. Shannon Airport is about a two-hour drive west.

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